It was at the end of that spring that Jerry Coleman, now a TV announcer but then in the Yankee front office, asked Kanehl to return to Class A ball. "If you go to Bingham-ton," Coleman said, "I'll come up there personally and teach you to be a slap hitter."
"Slap hitter?" Kanehl said. "I had 175 base hits last year for a total of 185 bases, and you're going to teach me to be a slap hitter?" Kanehl has a feeling Coleman never forgave him for that, and not only because the real figures were 154 hits and 178 total bases. At any rate, he did not go to Binghamton.
Kanehl had a reputation for being cheerful and cooperative around a ball club. "He has a good disposition playing for a team," Casey Stengel used to say. But every once in a while Kanehl exploded, the way he did at McCorry and Coleman and the way he did one year at Phil Seghi, who was running the Cincinnati Reds' farm system. In the spring of 1958 Kanehl found himself in Monterrey, Mexico on loan to the Reds' organization, living in screenless barracks with a spring-towel supply of one, unable to get an offer of more than $400 a month for his fifth season in baseball. So he decided to chuck it all and go home. First, though, he went out to take on a barrel of tequila, and when he returned to camp that night he encountered Seghi. He proceeded to lecture him loudly on the social concepts of baseball. "In this goddam game," Kanehl said, as he recalls it, "they're always telling you to sacrifice yourself, hit behind the runner, play for the team. But nobody does it, not on the field and not in the office. And at the end of the year, all you look at is the averages. You don't have a column for the times you hit behind a runner or the times you play when you're hurting. If my boy wants to play baseball I'll tell him one thing: be selfish. Don't worry about anybody but yourself. That's the way everybody plays this game."
The next day Kanehl was packed and ready to leave when Seghi came to see him. "You still as good a ballplayer today as you were last night?" Seghi said.
Kanehl said what he always says. "Sure."
" Dallas wants you,' Seghi said. "They'll pay you $600 after they give you a five-day look."
"I played two days, and then it rained," Kanehl said. "I wasn't overexposed. So they gave me the $600. Like I say, if you don't play, they'll never know."
They knew, though. Kanehl got into 133 games in Dallas and had one of his best years. "You know something?" he said. "I never did believe that stuff I told Seghi. I can't play this game selfish. Maybe I'm just not good enough."
The baseball talk went on until late, yet all the way through, Shirley Kanehl's attention never wavered. There are a lot of women who have spent their lives around baseball who get a dull gloss of ennui over their eyes after about 15 minutes of talk about the game. But Shirley Kanehl is, no matter what she says, a good baseball wife.
"I've always thought that Rod's a lot better than most people give him credit for," she said at one point. "Besides that, he's colorful. He's always doing something." It takes a lot of baseball wife to recognize that kind of talent, especially remembering eight years in the minor leagues at a top salary of $6,000.